A Day in the Gym: Back Day

By the time I walk into the gym I’ve already been anticipating getting my heart rate up, gripping the iron, and feeling my body come alive. I’m pumped for some crazy gym love. And I know my approach and goals.

On this particular day I’m training my favorite muscle group – back. Earlier in the day I’d asked my Twitter community what it is about back day that feels so crazy good. I heard, “It feels powerful.” “You can go super heavy.” “Women hold tension in their upper backs and it feels good to release it.”

I resonate with all these reasons why back day rocks. And while we don’t see them every day, strong back muscles protect you from injury, maintain good posture, and serve as prime movers for your day-to-day movements. If your back muscles aren’t strong when they need to be, other muscles will kick in and overcompensate. Repeat after me: “Muscle imbalances lead to injuries.”

Warm Up

If my gym had nice, hard foam rollers I would foam roll my IT band and IFL, lats, quads, and adductors. But since they don’t, I do fast elliptical for five minutes pumping my arms.

On to Delicious Back

Chin ups. I consider chin ups to be primarily a killer biceps exercise, but since they’re so challenging I do them first while I’m fresh.

I’ve been slacking on chin ups lately. I can only do two or three right now but am working back up to four and beyond by practicing them at home. See? If you don’t keep progressing, well… you go backwards.

Inverted Row. The straighter your body, the harder these are. 6 reps x 4 sets

Assisted Pull ups. I’ve changed my form for pull ups. I do them slowly with a two-second pause at the scapulae contraction, pulling my chest to the top with my hips forward. A slow tempo and pause means using a lot less weight, in case you’re wondering. 6 x 4

Narrow-grip Cable Row. Again, I do these slowly with a pause at the contraction, squeezing my scapulae together. Many times I’ll do the narrow-grip pull down instead of the cable row. 6 x 4
Bent-over Barbell Row. I could go super heavy with these but instead choose to go slow and pause for a great burn. Try these with a reverse grip too. 6 x 4

You’ll notice that I didn’t include deadlifts in my workout, and they’re considered one of the best back exercises. That’s because they have bothered my low back in the past, but I’m working on adjustments to make them feel better.

Incidentally, your low back is trained with lower body exercises such as stiff-legged deadlifts, back extensions, hip extensions, and many others. There’s no need to train it separately.

Now for Biceps

I’m feeling fatigued by now but know I must get through biceps. I’m not saying this approach is ideal; I fully admit that my biceps are tired by this point. But I consciously slack on biceps overall… Most biceps exercises hurt my right elbow so I don’t enjoy them. I rely on back exercises and a couple of quickie biceps exercises to do the trick. If I decide I want bigger “peaks” I’ll have to train biceps on a different day and step it up.

Barbell Drag Curls. These are brutal and I’ve heard they really deliver results. You won’t be able to keep your elbows by your sides; let them flare out while you drag the barbell up and down your body. 8 x 3

Concentration Curls. I do these over a bench, usually first. That slow tempo again… ouch. 8 x 3

Abs. I added a few abs exercises at the end of this workout – side plank (60 sec per side), reverse crunch, and ball crunch (3 x 25).

Cool Down

After my killer, 1-½ hour workout, I hit the stretching area. Again, I would foam roll but why bother with soft foam rollers? I spend five minutes static stretching my entire body.

I’m done! I leave with very fatigued muscles but lots of energy. My Nirvana is complete. Now it’s time for a banana, a protein shake, and a big meal.

(A big thanks to my friend and workout partner Amy for her excellent photography using a not-so-excellent camera!)

By the way – My Facebook fan Carin gave me the idea for this post. If you have an idea you’d like to see me write about, stop by and say so

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  1. Great post!!! Wow,that’s a killer workout Suzanne! I have to say I completely agree with you, Chin-ups kill biceps, which is a good thing in and of itself!

    From a personal perspective, I like to pair my back day with my chest, just because I love the symetry of working both the front and the back of my body.
    Christian recently posted..Finding My Feet…. Again.My Profile

  2. It’s so important to stay balanced! I try to work the opposite muscles–like back and chest, together so that I don’t neglect any part. Swimming also helps strengthen my back and shoulders.
    Lisa recently posted..Finding a Workout BuddyMy Profile

  3. Back is one of my favorite muscles.keep training hard.

  4. oh ya and pull ups are my 2nd favorite!
    lindsay recently posted..A Work in ProgressMy Profile

  5. That’s quite the workout you’ve got there! 🙂 RESPECT!

    I (not so) secretly hate pullups/lat pulls, which leads me to an interesting observation. It’s usually the exercise(s) that you hate the most that you NEED the most. 🙂

    Keep Rocking it!

    Lean Muscle Matt recently posted..Power-up Your Workouts with Push-upsMy Profile

  6. ::sigh:: when I grow up, I wanna be just like you!

    I want to be there NOW. I hate waiting. 🙁

  7. Wow…nice back! That is some workout 🙂 I hate to admit, but I hate working out my back! I find my hands get so tired from holding such heavy weights!
    Jen @familyfoodfitnessandfun recently posted..Love Me Some Sculpted ShouldersMy Profile

    • @Christian— You bring up a good point that there are many ways to get er done… Push/pull, triceps with biceps, etc. I’m going to experiment with doing biceps another day.

      @Lisa– Swimming is such a good total body workout, and it IS important to do full-body workouts too. You’re the second person to say you work chest with back. I’m just worried that I shouldn’t put two big muscles together, lest one of them get short-shrift.

      @Ndem– You too!

      @Lindsay– I’m afraid you’ve surpassed beast status.

      @Matt– Aw thanks Matt! I used to hate back day too and your observation is right on. Once my back became very strong I started to enjoy hoisting heavy stuff with it. Power!

      @Michelle– Keep on going, light at end of tunnel is there. You’ll get to your final goal when it’s the right time. Keep pushing!

      @Jen– Thanks Jen :). If you’re hands get tired you should work on your grip. I talk about grip in my chin ups post: http://workoutnirvana.com/chin-ups-are-insane-fun-theyre-within-your-reach/

  8. No words, just awe. True
    Emergefit recently posted..Taking Back My Potential, Part IMy Profile

  9. Wait, you didn’t but that did ya…? Of course I have words — lots of words. Love the old school back workout! Love that you mix it up so well — only wish had been there with ya.

    Oh, one other word; “approval”
    Emergefit recently posted..Taking Back My Potential, Part IMy Profile

    • Awe is ok… I like awe… 🙂 Approval is good too, esp from you :))
      Yeah, it’s old school. That’s my true love. I do a full-body workout once a week just to stay on top of the whole neuromuscular efficiency thing, but… Yeah, I wish you were here too <3

  10. OK – so were you like flexing or something for that first pic? my god! so beautiful!
    Great workout – as always – and I’d love to see the video of your modified pull up form – I’m SOOOO curious!
    Inverted rows? Yep – soooooooo good – I’ve been doing them at the school (I sneak them in after a walk, or a ride, or a quickie yard workout) and I’ve been playing with the tempo. LOVE THEM!
    Finally – I think – I can soooooo attest to taking care of our backs. After seriously straining mine in January, I’ll never take my back for granted again.

    Great post!
    Kris @Krazy_Kris recently posted..1967 Monterey Pop Festival | Music MondayMy Profile

  11. These are some great workout tips, Suzanne. There are two more back training exercises that you can do. The first one is close grip pull ups (palms facing away from you), this exercise is very effective in training the shoulders and upper back. Pull ups are harder to perform than chin ups because of their greater emphasis on the back muscles. T-bar rows are another excellent back training exercise. Some people use machines but I prefer the weight plates and Olympic bar because it gives the legs, shoulders and arms a workout, too.
    Joseph recently posted..Tips For Getting Rid of Bedbugs: The Bedmates That Nobody WantsMy Profile

    • @Kris– Yes, I was flexing my back lol. Otherwise it looks rather drab… 😉 But anyway, thank you – you know your back probably looks similar… it’s all in the lighting hehe. I’m getting a lot video requests lately… this is something I must get to. Didn’t we do inverted rows while you were here? xox

      @Joseph– Thanks so much for your fabulous tips. You’re the second person to suggest close-grip pull ups so I’ll definitely remember to try them now. I know pull ups are harder… that is why I cannot do them unassisted lol. I’m working on it though. Excellent point about using the Olympic bar for a T-bar row instead of the machine… I have seen this and think I’ll try it for my full-body workout on the weekend. Thanks!

  12. Wow! Your back looks so strong!
    Rach recently posted..Thank You, FacebookMy Profile

  13. Girl – you are fierce! (Seriously, I think your back has more muscles that my entire body.) I’m going to print out this list of awesome exercises and give them a whirl over the weekend. Thanks again for such great content!

  14. You look amazing!!! I love your workouts!
    Sheri @ TheMotivationalGirl recently posted..EnlightenmentMy Profile

    • @Shira– Let me know how you like them! And thank you – I’m thinking that’s a “slight” exaggeration :))

      @Sheri– Thank you Sheri!! Let me know if you try it!

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